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Rethinking Discipline ... ahem *Spanking*...

I'm about to get on a high horse so if it ain't your cup o' tea, feel free to move on.

Yeah, I'm talking about spanking.

Would you hit this child? She's reading her Bible, BTW.
And hell NO we are not going to be using this form of "discipline" on Little L.  I am not rethinking my position; I've been against hitting children for as long as I can remember.  However, perhaps you might need to reconsider your position.  Or someone you know probably does.

Last year, the American Psychological Association put out this article against spanking, suggesting that it may pose serious risks of harm to children.  Dr. Jenn Berman, author of Superbaby, lists 10 reasons why spanking is a bad idea.  John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby, also makes a solid case against corporal punishment (in favour of inductive parenting, with an occasional show of power/authority).  Time wrote a piece a couple of years ago about the first real-time study of parents who spank, and the results weren't pretty.  And if you Google about spanking, you'd find quite a bit of recent research to support this position against using violent force to teach proper behaviour (which is the goal, isn't it? Or is it to "punish" the child for behaving badly and force him/her to remember the "consequence" because it was so traumatic? Hmmmm).

So, um, why do people spank, if the research is so clear-cut?  Maybe it's easy, and in the short-term it works.  Maybe it's because it makes them feel better to "right" a "wrong" in this way.  Maybe they're ignorant of the research.  Maybe they lose control and it's a reactionary reflex, rather than instructive and intentional.  Maybe they woke up on the wrong side of the bed and had a bad day at work.  Maybe they're afraid that if they don't spank, they will end up with rotten kids.  Maybe they are pressured into it by a spouse or extended family.  Maybe they believe this is the only way to discipline and raise Jesus-loving children. Who knows? I would guess the reasons are many and complicated.

Now, I do know a few people who spank very rarely and as a last resort, who I believe are doing it "right" (or as "right" as one can do it if they are doing something this extreme).  However, I've also heard about people I know who have done the following:

*spank their kids so often that the child(ren) expect to be spanked before going to bed
*had their children pick out their own spanking "tool" (without knowing what it was for) and then using this item as the weapon of choice for spanking that child or threatening to spank him/her
*used a tool to spank/hit a child so violently that her earring ripped out of her ear

And yeah, I was spanked, too.  But my parents didn't have the benefit of this research, nor the education or access to information that we do in this generation.  I was also only very rarely spanked, my mom never lost control, and it was done only as a last resort after many repeated "warnings." Even so, I don't think being spanked was okay.  I suspect my mom regrets it now.

Usually, I don't argue that there is only one "right" way to parent, because mostly, it's about personal preference.  Breast-fed vs. bottle-fed?  Co-sleeping vs. in baby's own room?  Cloth vs. disposable? Organic vs. GMO? Natural birth vs. drugged-out birth? TV vs. no TV? Mush vs. baby-led weaning? Sleep training vs. not? Of course I have my biases and preferences which are based on what I believe is best for my kid.  But in all of these matters, I'm not really going to tell you how to raise your kid, because at the end of the day, all of our kids are going to be okay, no matter which end of these spectrums you fall on.

However, when it comes to physical force that is applied to a child, one who is weaker and smaller, and who is going to be adversely affected and hurt by this action, hell yeah I've got an issue with it!

So what are Dr. Berman's 10 reasons not to spank? Voila:

1. It teaches that it's okay to hit, and that hitting is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.  Which, BTW, is highly hypocritical if a child is being spanked for hitting someone.  Think about it.

2. It is harmful for cognitive development and mental health

3. Pain doesn't help a child develop a conscience.

4. It teaches fear, not respect, for parents.

5. It harms a child's self-esteem.

6. It teaches a child that it's okay to hit someone you love.

7. It's associated with aggression and anti-social behaviour later in life

8. Kids who are spanked are more anxious and fearful.

9. It increases the chances of a child participating in risky sexual activity as an adult.

10. It is more likely to lead to abuse by the parent.

In the face of all of this evidence, why on earth would an educated, 21st century parent still resort to such a primitive form of "discipline"?  In what backwards universe does hitting someone lead to a heart change and the development of integrity and moral character?!

This has been on my heart and mind for a few days now, and I had to get it out before I exploded from rage and frustration.  Seriously, there is a better way.  One that teaches consequences and good behaviour while still showing grace and love and modeling respectfulness. 

So if you're thinking of spanking, or you've done it already, reconsider.  Rethink your disciplinary methods.  And go apologize to your children.


tejanamama said…
It works. Period. I am the ones you described who do it rarely and when all else fails and it has helped us get to where we are now--in a really good place...finally. I don't think everything can be measured and scientifically explained. Like God for instance--among other things. Parental relationships can be very dynamic and complicated and its unique to each parent and child. Two children raised by the same parents have entirely different realities and feelings and relationships with their folks. I don't think abuse is okay ever, and sadly, some people can take "discipline" too far. Those people usually shouldn't have procreated in the first place.
joejuniorsmommy said…
Thanks for your $.02. I believe a friend of mine referenced one or two of the articles you mentioned.

Here's another take on it for you to check out:

I'm not saying to abuse power or spank all the time, but we are called to love and not withhold discipline.

Proverbs 23:13 NIV
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.

Proverbs 13:24 NIV
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

Much love, fellow momma!
Mrs. Loquacious said…
@tejanamama - Then you are the *second* person I know who does it with great restraint and thought. ;)

@joejuniorsmommy - I am absolutely 100% for discipline, and even Biblical discipline. However, I don't believe that the "rod" is a literal one just like I don't believe that you must literally pick up a cross to follow Jesus (the precept and principle remain, of course). There are absolutely other ways to discipline and I am shocked whenever I learn and see that people use spanking as their default go-to, the way one uses stickers to reward and bribes to coax.

Also, whenever discipline is reactionary, it is no longer Biblical because it is then done out of anger and frustration and not love and self-control.

Finally, there is no fear in love. Love drives out fear. If threats and fear tactics are used to control a child's behaviour, it is no longer a loving interaction between two image-bearers, but a situation where the bigger person is exerting power and control over the littler one. There is also no heart change and no true repentance that results from this sort of "discipline," only avoidance borne out of fear.

I stand by my position that there is a better way, and one that preserves the love and respect that I want my child to receive from me, and to model in return.
Mrs. Loquacious said…
Oh, and my thoughts (and yours) are now worth $0.05 since pennies have been obliterated.
lifeofheart said…
I think I understand what Mrs Loquacious is saying...but I come to a different conclusion and respectfully disagree.

I agree spanking shouldn't be the go-to form of discipline. Hitting out of rage is not Biblical for sure. (In anger do not sin!) But I also believe there's a difference between hurting and harming someone. Spanking hurts, but it doesn't necessarily harm a child. If no discipline was applied, I'd say the child is harmed. In a parent-child relationship, there will always be someone bigger exerting a form of power/control (namely parental authority) over the little least until they're grown. That's not always a bad thing. In fact, I'd say many kids lack any kind of respect for authority nowadays.

Fear/Love...we also fear and love God. It's not the cowering fear...but the awe and respect fear. CHildren should have a similar fear/love for their parents. If we hit a child in anger, with no explanation then I think a wrong kind of fear develops. The kind you're refering to. But if we explain that it is part of loving discipline for wrong that was committed, then I think a more respectful kind of "fear" develops. Out of respect and love for the parent, and God, there WILL be a heart change.

God definitely disciplines those He loves...and d@mn it hurts. WAY more than an adult time-out or reward withholding. But He isn't harming is for my good. Therefore, my conclusion is that spanking shouldn't be written out of the's the last resort...and we have to be careful how/when to use it.
Mrs. Loquacious said…
@lifeofheart - we obviously fall on two opposite ends of the spectrum, although I do commend you for not spanking under age 5 or over age 12 (though those ages seem arbitrary to me, since I've taught many 9-10 year olds who are fully capable of reasoning and don't require physical punishment to be disciplined)!

I know that to use other forms of discipline require much more thought and creativity but I believe that those alternative methods of discipline are more effective while being less harmful/hurtful.   We cannot know for certain that hurt and harm are not correlated, and the research suggests that they are in the case of corporal punishment.  

As for fear/love, I daresay that I do not want my kids to be in fear/awe of me in the same way that they are to a holy God.  I am human and prone to sin; I am not to be revered and worshipped, though I am to be loved and honored and respected by my kids.  I would posit that Jesus didn't regard Mary and Joseph with the same awe-inspiring fear He had for the Father, either, though He submitted and obeyed as a child ought, out of love for the Father.  This is why we must often confess and apologize to our kids when we wrong them too; it's a mutual love-respect that we must cultivate, different from the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.  God deserves our awe and fear because of who He is.  We cannot demand the same from our kids because of who we are.

But I do hold that a last-resort, once-in-a-year spanking done out of love is qualitatively different than spanking a two-year-old as a regular form of punishment, even though it's possible that both might result in harm.  One is obviously more "right" than the other, even if I disagree with them both!

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